Ed Davey and Lib Dems win out at the 2019 Small Business Debate
The Liberal Democrats’ Ed Davey won a clear victory among freelancers at IPSE's 2019 General Election Hustings, where the panel included Trade Secretary Liz Truss, and Labour’s Bill Esterson.
Speaking at a hustings event last week, Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Deputy Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey, and Labour’s shadow business minister Bill Esterson were among five speakers setting out their pitch ahead of the general election on December 12th, when the votes of 5 million self-employed freelancers will be up for grabs.
An audience “exit poll” after the event showed Ed Davey achieved a whopping 14% swing for the Liberal Democrats during the Small Business Hustings, hosted by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), Enterprise Nation and the Entrepreneurs Network. He won over the audience, with 54% stating an intention to vote Liberal Democrat after seeing his performance, compared to 40% beforehand. The Conservatives came in second, with 24% of attendees expressing an intention to vote for them after the hustings.
The Party of Business?
With freelancers’ confidence in the economy at its lowest level on record, according to IPSE’s most recent confidence tracker, this hustings was a key opportunity for parties to woo voters.
The first to make her pitch to the room was Trade Secretary Liz Truss, who quickly came under fire for the economic damage Brexit could bring.
Ms Truss’s reference to the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal as “very good” triggered a spatter of laughter.
“Entrepreneurs are people we should cheer at, not sneer at,” she said. Ms Truss stated that people who started up their own companies were “heroes.”
“You are the people coming up with the ideas and innovations and products that power our economy,” she argued, gesturing to the room.
Labour’s Bill Esterson sought to allay fears the Labour manifesto was anti-business with effusive support for the business community, citing his personal experience. Labour have committed to raise corporation and dividend tax, if they form the next Government.
“I ran a business for fifteen years before I became an MP, I recognise the challenges of late payment in the brilliant IPSE manifesto,” he said.
Mr Esterson acknowledged that Labour’s manifesto was “ambitious”.
“But when you have a crisis like the one that the climate faces or the health service,” he emphasised, “you need to match it with the scale of your ambition”.
The Labour front-bencher spoke passionately, but many in the audience remained unconvinced, as the "exit poll” demonstrated: just 21 per cent would back Labour.
Ed Davey ferociously outlined the Liberal Democrats pro-business credentials, citing uncompromising support for the single market.
“We are the party that believes in free market, free trade and competition. We want to stop Brexit, because Brexit is a disaster.”
“But we also want a whole set of reforms to help entrepreneurs in our country,” he added.
Liz Truss pointed out that the Tory manifesto did commit to expanding free trade within the next 3 years to 80% of the world, and spoke optimistically of trade deals with the USA, Australia and Japan.
However, Ed Davey thrilled the audience with harsh words for her on this point: “as you well know, as trade minister,” he retorted, “we are going off a cliff”.
“I think it is an absolute disgrace. [The Liberal Democrats] are now the party of business – [Conservatives] have given up the mantel.”
The leading political panel also included the Brexit Party’s Hector Birchwood and Green Party Deputy Leader Amelia Womack.
Ms Womack suggested a universal basic income of £89 a week and said she had “met a number of conservatives who have joined the green party due to our policies on small businesses”.
Hector Birchwood advocated for a no-deal Brexit and repeatedly accused Liz Truss and the Conservatives of “taking a lot of our ideas,” much to the enjoyment of Ed Davey.
Outside of Brexit, Mr Birchwood said the Brexit Party would have an “overall look at how taxation is made across the country,” cut corporation tax for micro-businesses and scrap business rates.
The IPSE Manifesto
“We need to support the self-employed in this country. We need to make sure that our tax system is diverse so that it matches the needs of being self-employed and is also consistent with the risk that is taken,” Bill Esterson commented.
“Pretty much everything I can agree with,” he continued, referring to IPSE’s manifesto.
The IPSE document, ‘#5millionvotes: how to win the support of the self-employed’, includes 40 policy recommendations to support the self-employed, but has five key asks for political parties, including modernising tax, the end of late payments and scrapping IR35 and the Loan Charge.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto adopted a raft of measures from IPSE to support freelancers, including reviewing the changes to IR35, the controversial tax regulations which aim to refund the exchequer if a person is employed in all but name.
Conversely, Liz Truss was confronted with questions about the lack of detail in the Conservative manifesto, a mere 59 page document, compared to Labour’s 107.
Bill Esterson accused his Conservative counterpart of a “slap-dash approach” to the self-employed.
“Our manifesto lays out a huge number of policies which are about supporting business, whether it is increasing the number of start-up loans, the review of the burden of business rates,” she responded.
“We do want to give more teeth to the small business commissioner – and particularly on issues like late payments so they are able to levy fines.”
Liz Truss termed the Labour manifesto “frightening” as it “actively attacks the idea of making a profit.”
Ed Davey’s victory in the audience poll was secured when he delighted the room with a fierce attack on the Loan Charge.
IPSE has consistently raised concerns about HMRC’s “retrospective tactics” on the Loan Charge. The Charge is an attempt to recover tax from disguised remuneration schemes.
Ed Davey was clear: “I set up the APPG on the Loan charge as I thought it was a scandal.”
“It was a disgrace, it is a disgrace,” he declared, to rapturous applause from the audience.
Ed Davey committed to “abolish the retrospective nature of the Loan Charge” if the Liberal Democrats have “any power” in the next Parliament.
“We want to make sure HMRC starts actually behaving in a lawful way,” he concluded.
Liz Truss would only commit to a review of the Loan Charge. One had already been announced by Government but was delayed due to the election being called.
“We are going to have a proper review of self-employment – and look at how we can make it easier for people who are self-employed to succeed and how we can remove complexity and red tape,” she said.
“I tell you what,” Ed Davey interrupted to quip, “Labour and the Conservatives are both doing a lot of reviews”.
To read the full IPSE Manifesto click HERE.